Phil Kessel joining the Pittsburgh Penguins inspires some intriguing questions, and one of the most enjoyable ones is: should he line up with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?
If you’ve followed how the modern NHL works, the most accurate answer is probably the evasive one: “both.”
Head coaches love to juggle combinations, especially early on in a season, so the high-scoring sniper will likely get multiple looks with the two dynamic pivots. Heck, the Penguins could terrify opposing defenses (and penalty kill units) by sending all three out, especially when they need a goal or two.
All of those disclaimers aside, it’s still a pretty fun thing to debate, particularly during the hockey-starved summer.
Interestingly, it seems like quite a few people argue that Kessel might click with Malkin more than Crosby, and the theme of such arguments comes down to meshing styles.
Note this stance from NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:
With Kessel and Malkin on the ice together, there would be constant movement and interplay between two threats able to score on virtually any possession in the attacking zone.
Crosby plays more of a north-south game of direct lines and quick puck movement. Crosby’s linemates have to think the game quickly, react quickly, and be ready in a hurry. He wants his wings to be predictable.
The Hockey Writers’ Mike Colligan floated a similar theory:
Malkin and Kessel also play an instinctual style as opposed to the precise, tactical approach of Crosby. Much like Mario Lemieux, Malkin and Kessel know exactly when to take off up the ice before hockey fans (and most opponents) even realize there’s a breakaway opportunity. They react to the game as it unfolds, which can be a nightmare for linemates who don’t have the same mindset.
Naturally, Kessel could just easily find chemistry with Crosby. In simplified terms, the American winger is a natural sniper while Crosby ranks as one of the NHL’s most gifted passers. Actually, let’s go even simpler: that duo could work simply because of their sheer skill.
Pensburgh brings up an interesting idea, too: Malkin may very well prosper with Kessel in town even if the former Maple Leaf isn’t his winger. “Geno” had to deal with makeshift wingers while Crosby skated alongside David Perron and Patric Hornqvist in 2014-15, yet Kessel arguably allows other Penguins forwards to fall in more comfortable spots.
It’s obviously way too early to predict how this will shake out, especially since the Penguins could conceivably shake up their roster a bit more before the 2015-16 campaign kicks into gear. Either way, it should be fun to find out how Kessel fits in Pittsburgh, though.
Related: Crosby thinks that Kessel is excited to join the Penguins.